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Jallikattu In Covid Times

By A GANESH NADAR
January 14, 2022 16:24 IST
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Despite severe restrictions imposed on the number of bulls, bull-tamers and spectators thanks to the pandemic, Jallikattu organisers are hopeful of the show going on this Pongal.
A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com reports.

IMAGE: A bull charges at participants during the annual Jallikattu in Avaniyapuram village on the outskirts of Madurai, January 14, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Once again it's Pongal time, and with it comes the popular Jallikattu, or bull-taming, popular in regions around southern Tamil Nadu.

Famous for the sport are three places in and around Madurai: Alanganallur, Avaniyapuram and Palamedu.

This year too, like last year, coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works, with the state government imposing restrictions on how many bulls can participate, how many men can be in the ring, and even curtailed attendance.

Unlike the Spanish bullfights, in Jallikattu the bulls are held in line behind the starting line by their trainers, and released one by one. Those vying to tame the bulls are in the area close to the starting area.

There is no conquest here, the tamers simply try to hang on to the hump of the bull for a limited time, till it passes a line less than 100 metres from the starting point.

If they do that, they are said to have tamed the bull. And the one who hangs on to the maximum number of bulls is declared the winner of the tournament.

"In the past we gave a Santro car as prize to the champion, this year I don't know if we are getting a car," said C Rajendran, one of the Palamedu Jallikattu committee members. The prizes are all given by sponsors, whose names are mentioned when the prize is given.

Apart from the car, other prizes to be handed out include cupboards, motorbikes, cycles, gold coins, silver coins and many household items.

"It all depends on what the sponsors give, of whom we have plenty," says Rajendran. "The committee does everything from arranging the sponsors, tabulating the bulls, owners, trainers and the tamers."

 

IMAGE: Jallikattu is livecast on all Tamil television channels. Photograph: ANI Photo

The trainers wait at the end of the barricades, 1.5 km from the start line, to retake their bulls as they finish their run.

There is also a commentator who provides a running commentary of what is taking place at the event. This is interspersed with messages and advertisements from the sponsors. The event is also livecast on all Tamil television channels.

"All arrangements are in place, we have whitewashed all the walls and houses along the 1.5 km path that the bulls will run in. The entire pathway has been barricaded. Arrangements have also been made for spectators to sit near the start where all the action takes place," says Rajendran.

IMAGE: The tamers try to hang on to the hump of the bull for a limited time, till it passes the crossing line less than 100 metres from the starting point. Photograph: ANI Photo

This year Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) has been spent by the government on all the infrastructure and other necessary arrangements for the tournament to proceed smoothly on January 17, 2022.

Usually Jallikattu is held on the third day after Pongal, which falls on January 16 this year, but as the Tamil Nadu government has declared a lockdown on Sundays thanks to coronavirus, it will be held the next day, Monday, January 17.

IMAGE: Palamedu has a hospital to attend to anyone who gets injured during the course of Jallikattu. Photograph: ANI Photo

The government has ruled that only 300 bulls can participate in Jallikattu this year.

"We are expecting 700 bulls to come, out of these only 300 will participate and the other 400 which don't participate will also get a small prize, nobody will go back empty-handed," declares Rajendran.

Earlier the number of bull tamers used to be many, but this too has been restricted to 300 this year. Even the number of spectators has been restricted to 150, and only locals at that.

"Earlier we used to get foreigners who come from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka to see our event. Our Jallikattu is famous all over the world," says Rajendran.

IMAGE: This year even the number of spectators has been restricted to 150 and that too only locals. Photograph: ANI Photo

The coronavirus-induced pandemic has forced them to issue ID cards to all bull owners, bull trainers, bull tamers and even the spectators. "Everyone has to register online, otherwise they cannot come here," says Rajendran.

To register, one has to be double vaccinated and also have a negative RT-PCR negative report issued at least 48 hours before the event.

Rajendra says they had thought that Jallikattu would not be held this year because of the pandemic, but with the state government's support they are holding it with many restrictions in place.

According to Rajendran, before the pandemic 400,000 people would come to Palamedu to witness Jallikattu. This year, non-locals and others can watch it on television, he says wryly.

IMAGE: A medical check-up being conducted on a the bull at the Jallikattu at Avaniyapuram, January 14, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Doctors will also be on hand at the site of the event, where they have established a mini clinic. Palamedu also has a hospital to attend to anyone who gets injured.

"If anyone is seriously injured, we can send them to the Government Hospital in Madurai, we are only 21 km from there," says Rajendran.

However, he says, nobody has been seriously injured in the last few years. "We have taken out insurance for the bulls, tamers and spectators and paid Rs 25,000 as premium for the event," he said.

The Jallikattu committee has also arranged for food to be provided for everyone attending the event, including the bulls, their owners, trainers, tamers, the medical staff and others who are conducting the event.

"Jallikattu will start at 8 am on Monday," says Rajendran, who has been on the committee for the last three years, "and it will go on till all 300 bulls are released, one at a time."

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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